Tiny Epic Kingdoms Review

Tiny Epic Kingdoms is an area control/4x game designed by Scott Almes (Harbour, Best Treehouse Ever) and published by Gamelyn Games.  It is also the first in the Tiny Epic series, a growing line of games which share the unique distinction of packing engaging big-box gameplay into a tiny, well-made package.

When we call TEK a 4X game, we are using the common shorthand for Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate…none of which actually start with an ‘X’, now that I think about it.  The game is designed for 2-5 players and lasting somewhere in the 30 minute range.  Each player will take on the role of a faction vying for control over the kingdom by seizing territory, researching magic, building massive towers, and destroying their opposition.

andysmAndrew:  Tiny Epic Kingdoms packs a lot of great gameplay into its little box.  There is a lot here that I like, and the first thing to mention are the factions themselves.

Just a taste of the factions
Just a taste of the factions

There are a whopping 13 factions in the base game (3 more with the ‘deluxe’ content), each featuring 5 unique magic abilities.  These abilities help the factions feel different, letting you try different strategies depending on your faction’s strengths and weaknesses.  This, combined with the 8 double-sided territory cards, lends itself to a huge amount of replayablility, which is another thing we love about TEK.

Gameplay itself is fairly straightforward.  Each player starts with a home territory and some resources.  On their turn, players will pick from a list of available actions to activate.  However, they aren’t just picking that action for themselves; in turn order, each player has the option of either taking that action or gaining some resources.  That cleverly makes every player invested in every other player’s turn, meaning downtime is basically nonexistent.

jessmJess:  Didn’t you just say this about San Juan?

The game comes with cards for your tower and action selection, but the playmat offered by Gamelyn is too nice to pass up!
The game comes with cards for your tower and action selection, but the playmat offered by Gamelyn is too nice to pass up!

andysmAndrew:  Yeah, I did.  Because it was a really awesome part of that game, and it remains a really awesome part of this one!

The actions are:

  • Patrol – Move a unit to an adjacent region
  • Quest – Move a unit from the edge of one territory card to the edge of another
  • Build – Spend brick to build the next level of your tower (the tower provides points at the end of the game)
  • Research – Spend magic to research the next level of your faction powers
  • Expand – Spend food to add a unit to a region you control
  • Trade – Exchange goods of one type for another

andysmAndrew:  Now, these actions are often modified by Faction abilities – like (once researched) Humans who gain more resources for Trading or Lizardfolk who can Patrol to non-adjacent regions.

Actions become unavailable as they are chosen (so you can’t activate the Patrol action 2 turns in a row, for example), but once five of the six actions have been activated, they all reset and become available once more.

Using little shields to mark off actions as we activate them. The playmat also has space for our towers
Using little shields to mark off actions as we activate them. The playmat also has space for our towers

jessmJess:  So, that’s Explore and Expand explained (hehe).  The Exploit comes from gathering resources instead of taking actions.  What about Exterminate?

When one faction’s unit enters a region controlled by another (keeping in mind that a region can never have more than 2 units in it), they have themselves a Tiny Epic War.  Both players take a war die (1-11, with a single ‘peace’ side), and calculate their War Power.  This number is a combination of faction abilities plus any bonus that the players gain by spending resources (magic adds 2, brick adds 1, and food adds nothing, barring Faction powers).  Once settled on a War Power, players secretly set their die and then simultaneously reveal, with the higher number winning the region (and removing the loser’s pawn from the board).

A player board, mid-game. Resource trackers move around the edge, and the book token denotes magic research.
A player board, mid-game. Resource trackers move around the edge, and the book token denotes magic research.

jessmJess:  Really interestingly, players can also choose to go for peace, which lets them coexist on that region.  So if you’d like for us both to share a capital city, all you have to do is set your die to that white flag there…

andysmAndrew:  You never surrender peacefully!

jessmJess:  I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about. Now put up that white flag or else!

Every single time
Every single time

There are several endgame conditions, each of which is checked for at the end of the round.  And while it is the player with the most points who wins, there are multiple paths to that coveted high score (Faction bonuses, the building of the tower, proliferation of units), meaning that no one strategy is guaranteed to win.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms is a great little game.  For such a small box, there is a lot going on, and while the rules are quite clear, I feel like there is enough depth and complexity to satisfy novice and experienced gamers alike.  The quality of the components is great, the art is cool, and the variety of Factions means that it’ll be a while before you experience any two games that are completely alike.

andysmAndrew:  All in all, we think Tiny Epic Kingdoms fits amazingly well into anyone’s collection.  It’s small, it’s portable, and it’s quick, but it is also engaging and intuitive and just plain fun!

The comparison between the standard 1st and 2nd edition
The comparison between the standard 1st and 2nd edition

jessmJess:  …So, this is the part where we normally link to Amazon or wherever you could get the game, but here’s the thing.  We’re reviewing Tiny Epic Kingdoms 1st edition.  2nd Edition was Kickstarted alongside its first major expansion, Heroes’ Call earlier this year, and has some nice upgrades over this one!

Tiny Epic Kingdoms 2nd Edition, slated for an early Q2 release in 2016 (which isn’t really that far away, actually) adds some really nice changes to the base game while retaining everything that we love about TEK.  The resource bits are changed slightly, and there are some graphical improvements as well.  Also, the Exploration Tiles (formerly a deluxe edition luxury) will be included in every copy.

So while we are thrilled to have TEK to play now, we encourage everyone to hold off on grabbing it (if you can even find it now), and absolutely snag a copy of the 2nd Edition when it comes out in a few months.  Tiny Epic Kingdoms is absolutely worth owning as-is, but it will be even better then!

You can get all the details for the changes in Tiny Epic Kingdoms (as well as a preview of Hero’s Call) right here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/coe/tiny-epic-kingdoms-heroes-call-and-tek-2nd-edition

And while you’re waiting, you can go to Gamelyn’s homepage and order yourself a playmat!

As soon as it hits retail, we will update this article with links!

(Thanks to Gamelyn Game for sending us a playmat to go along with our copy of TEK.)

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